Whether its fertilizer applications or tillage techniques, farmers work hard to build strong yields. And all yields are built on the same foundation: soil health. Modern corn hybrids and soybean varieties have tremendous yield potential right out of the bag, but unless the soil they’re planted in is healthy, they’ll likely fall short of their potential. 

There are many factors that can affect soil health: soil properties (soil type, texture, drainage, pH, bulk density and organic matter); crops and crop residue; soil biology (bacteria, fungi, nematodes and earthworms); and the environment (rainfall, temperature, humidity and wind). Luckily, strip-till can be implemented regardless of soil type or geography. Water and nutrient holding capacity, organic matter and soil structure are all characteristics promoted through strip-till practices.

Protecting The Soil With Strip-Till

Strip-till can help reduce wind and water erosion and build soil structure, which helps with water infiltration. 

“The residue helps wick down water very quickly. You have where the soil is going to warm up where you plant the seed, and it’s like conventional tillage in that area, but then you have all the benefits of no-till in between those rows,” says Jodi DeJong-Hughes, extension specialist with the University of Minnesota.

When using the SoilWarrior, only about 33% of the land where the fertilizer and seed are placed is disturbed. Unlike traditional tillage, strip-till will move residue aside, exposing the strips that allow for residue to remain, but does not bog down the planting strips. This residue is a great source to build soil structure, retain moisture and provide food for bacteria and fungi. 

DeJong-Hughes says her research shows that most yields from strip-till fields are comparable to full surface tillage. But she says because most of her projects are three years in duration or less, the full benefit to the soil from strip-till isn’t always realized yet. She says colleagues who’ve done longer term projects have seen substantial yield boosts in zone-till fields, offering proof that soil health through reduced tillage can be a productive option.

Strip-Till & Weather Variability 

In drier years with high weather variability, it’s important that the soil has enough moisture to support your crops. Some ways to conserve moisture is to only till once in the fall or in the spring, and if you need another pass, only going as deep as you need to provide a good seedbed. As mentioned, leaving residue as is will also contribute to increasing soil moisture as it acts as a barrier, reduces evaporation and allows for less soil crusting. 

Dennis Smith has been using a SoilWarrior for over a decade and has greatly improved his soil health with strip-till to the point where he doesn’t need to worry about moisture anymore. 

“Soil crusting is a thing of the past,” Smith says. “Wind erosion is a thing of the past. I don’t even worry about it. There’s talk of a hot dry summer this year, and I say, ‘Bring it on.’ My soil will stay cooler and will hold its moisture."

Luckily, strip-till is flexible and can be done in either fall or spring. Many growers tend to strip-till in the fall, but if weather conditions aren’t ideal, spring tillage is always an option, and there are benefits to both. The best time usually depends on your climate, nutrient placement, weather, soil temperature and moisture. 

7 Signs of Healthy Soil

Looking to evaluate your soil health? Here are seven signs to look for when evaluating soil health according to the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service:

  1. Easily crumbles in your hand. 
  2. Sweet earthy smell. No smell reflects little active life. 
  3. Dark soil and deeper color than the topsoil. 
  4. Easy to dig 5-7 inches deep and contains earthworms or millipedes. 
  5. Strong, healthy crop roots. 
  6. Easy to penetrate with a rod, no crusting or substantial erosion. 
  7. Crop residue. 
Discover the benefits and learn how to get started with SoilWarrior to elevate your soil health and protect your land for years to come. Click to download: www.soilwarrior.com/ebook

Strip-Till Farmer's Building Healthier Soil and Profits with Strip-Till series is brought to you by Environmental Tillage Systems.

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At Environmental Tillage Systems, we believe farmers shouldn’t have to choose between doing what’s right for your soil and what’s right for your business. The SoilWarrior is a complete precision zone tillage system custom built for your farm and delivered to you ready to get in the field. Backed by 24-hour service and support, The SoilWarrior takes the guess work out of strip-till so you can concentrate on defending the land and leading the charge. See soilwarrior.com for more information.